Part of the magic of Gilmore Girls -- and part of the reason its popularity endures years after it went off the air -- is that Stars Hollow is such a rich, inviting place. A great deal of care obviously went into making it come alive, with significant attention paid to ensuring that even the tiniest of details feel authentic. It's the kind of fictional town that makes fans wish they could live there for real.
That quality extends to the town's patrons, who are beloved by viewers for their quirkiness. Odds are good that you've watched the show and thought how awesome it would be to have one of them as your best friend. For such a tiny burg, Stars Hollow has a lot of people, which means a lot of actors were required to play them. Obviously, there are the lead actors, who are crucial. Then there are all the townspeople and supporting characters, some of whom pop up for only an episode or two, and others who recur throughout the series.
Gilmore Girls had the benefit of some spot-on casting, landing actors who made major characters feel like family and minor ones feel like colorful acquaintances. That doesn't mean there weren't a few missteps, though. Any program with so many roles over the course of seven seasons will occasionally have a few clunkers. We've made our choices for the casting picks that made it true must-see television, as well as those that could have been better.
Here are 9 Casting Decisions That Hurt Gilmore Girls (And 11 That Saved It).
20 Saved: Melissa McCarthy (Sookie)
Melissa McCarthy plays Sookie, the Dragonfly Inn's resident chef and Lorelei's best friend. Few, if any, viewers would have guessed that she would go on to become one of the biggest comedy stars in the world. That's because the actress knew her wild and crazy type of humor wasn't right for the show. It required a more subtle comedic style, which she capably supplied.
McCarthy was previously a member of the Groundlings improv troupe, where she learned the immense value of being a team player. That quality served her well on Gilmore Girls. Sookie is funny and lovable, and the actress portraying her knows when to come to the forefront and when to lift up her fellow cast members.
19 Hurt: Chad Michael Murray (Tristan)
Tristan Dugray, played by Chad Michael Murray, is one of Rory's classmates at Chilton. He is often mean to her, teasing her or making sarcastic comments. Eventually, it is revealed that he's secretly in love with her. There's an old saying that boys always pick on the girls they like. Tristan is the epitome of that.
Although the character gets some more sympathetic moments in the show, he largely remains a one-dimensional, entitled jerk.
Murray played that single note successfully, without ever going beyond it. There had to have been some kind of weird psychology going on inside Tristan to make him behave this way. It's possible that a different actor would have been able to suggest that more fully.
18 Saved: Kelly Bishop (Emily Gilmore)
A big part of making Gilmore Girls work was having the audience understand why Lorelei and her parents had such tension between them. Specifically, her troubled relationship with mother Emily is what drove her from home, putting her on the path to becoming the woman she is. Kelly Bishop, who previously appeared in Dirty Dancing and Wonder Boys, was the idea choice for the character.
Bishop makes Emily's condescending, judgmental attitude toward her daughter feel authentic. We totally understand why Lorelei fled. At the same time, Bishop showed the woman's vulnerability over the course of seven seasons. Emily may have been excessively cruel at times, but her uptight nature gave cover to a troubled soul.
17 Hurt: Sally Struthers (Babette)
One of Stars Hollow's wackiest residents is Babette Dell, the town gossip and inspiration for Kirk's "Babette ate oatmeal" t-shirts. Stepping into the role was Sally Struthers. Although certainly a talented actress, she had a little too much baggage.
It was difficult to see the character rather than the person playing her.
Struthers first achieved fame as Gloria, Archie Bunker's beleaguered daughter on the classic '70s sitcom All in the Family. Her career struggled somewhat after that program went off the air. By the 1990s, she was seen mostly in a series of TV commercials for the International Correspondence School, an educational institution offering degrees in things like VCR repair and auto mechanics. It was hard for viewers not to think of that when she came onscreen.
16 Saved: Liza Weil (Paris)
Liza Weil makes an outstanding mean girl. As Paris Geller, she spent the early part of Gilmore Girls doing everything she could to make Rory's life miserable. The actress perfectly captured the casual cruelty that is often present in teenage life. Paris clearly enjoyed causing other people to feel bad. Audiences consequently loved to hate her.
Over time, Paris grew as a character, giving Weil a chance to reveal more of her layers. As she and Rory unexpectedly grew chummy, it became clear that her arrogance was a defense mechanism, covering up a well of self-doubt. Acting out that kind of dynamic is difficult. Weil made us believe the more sympathetic Paris just as much as we bought the villainous Paris.
15 Hurt: Vanessa Marano (April)
There's an old saying in the television business that when a show runs out of ideas,they bring in a kid. Gilmore Girls didn't exactly run out of ideas. It did, however, bring in a kid. April Nardini, played by Vanessa Marano, was Luke's long-lost daughter. She made her debut in season six, with storylines detailing Luke's attempts to bond with her.
Nothing against Marano, but the addition of a precocious child always felt a little bit forced.
Although it gave Luke something to do that didn't involve the diner -- or Lorelei, for that matter -- giving him a kid wasn't the most organic idea. Marano didn't quite have the charisma to turn the character into something other than the drama-creating story device April was clearly intended to be.
14 Saved: Edward Hermann (Richard Gilmore)
Late actor Edward Hermann had an impressive background. He graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, then went on to study at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. A thriving career in theater, television, and film followed. That made him a natural for Richard Gilmore, a man who is supposed to be equally accomplished.
Hermann made Richard both imposing and intimidating -- a man who liked things a certain way because that way had always worked. The phrase "set in his ways" was practically invented to describe Richard. Many actors would have made Richard seem heartless, but not Hermann. He conveyed the tenderness beneath the demanding exterior, especially during interactions with beloved granddaughter Rory.
13 Hurt: Sebastian Bach (Gil)
Sebastian Bach made a name for himself as the lead singer of the '80s heavy metal band Skid Row, whose hits included "18 and Life" and "I Remember You". The group was kind of a flash in the pan.
Bach gained notoriety for his unapologetic rock star attitude.
When the band split up, he turned to acting, doing some work on Broadway as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then he got cast as Gil, a member of Lane's rock band, Hep Alien. A lot of the time, Bach appeared to be sending himself up-- a rocker playing a stereotype of a rocker, if you will. The result was fairly distracting. Despite the authenticity, casting a non-rocker in the role would have been preferable.
12 Saved: Keiko Agena (Lane)
Every teen girl needs a bestie. Rory's is Lane Kim, played by Keiko Agena. She lives under the thumb of a super-stern mother, is a music aficionado, and eventually marries bandmate Zack, giving birth to twin boys not long afterward.
Playing the best friend of a main character can be a thankless task. Such characters are often there only to give that character someone to tell their problems to. It is a testament to Agena's talent -- and some great writing -- that Lane utterly transcends that cliche. The actress invests her with a great personality, unflagging loyalty, and a whip-smart sense of humor. All of us would benefit from having a friend like Lane.
11 Hurt: Michael DeLuise (TJ)
Michael DeLuise hails from a show business family. His mother is actress Carol Arthur, and his father is comedian Dom DeLuise, best known for making frequent films with pals Mel Brooks and Burt Reynolds in the '70s and '80s. With those parents, it would have been a surprise if he hadn't gotten into acting. For Gilmore Girls, DeLuise was cast as TJ, Luke's somewhat dim-witted brother-in-law.
The character was shaky to begin with, and the performance did nothing to improve it.
The actor played TJ far too broadly for the overall tone of the show. The excessively daffy fool can be very funny in sitcoms -- think Joey on Friends -- but on a program as witty as Gilmore Girls, a character meant to be humorously stupid feels out of place.
10 Saved: Jared Padalecki (Dean)
Jared Padalecki had the chance to show real range over the course of Gilmore Girls. His character, Dean, is initially Rory's doting boyfriend. The actor did an excellent job bringing across the sense of infatuation and devotion that teenagers often experience when they fall head over heels for someone.
Later, Dean finds himself crowded out by Jess, his rival for Rory's affections. Just as he captured the feel of young love, Padalecki also captured the pain of adolescent heartbreak. He makes the audience understand the depth of betrayal that Dean feels. He's given his all to Rory, and it just isn't enough.
9 Hurt: Danny Strong (Doyle)
Doyle McMaster makes his debut in season four. He's the editor of the Yale Daily News, where Rory is a writer. He also becomes the boyfriend of Paris. They're an odd match because she's high-strung and he's kind of a dork. That "dork" part is the problem. Doyle was played by Danny Strong, an actor who took the concept to heart. In his hands, the character became unrealistically neurotic.
Doyle became a caricature pretty quickly.
Consequently, the romance with Paris was never especially believable. It felt like a relationship forged by writers looking for a new subplot for Paris, rather than an authentic attraction. Strong is a heck of a writer, though. He later penned the screenplays for Lee Daniels' The Butler and the final two Hunger Games movies.
8 Saved: Milo Ventimiglia (Jess)
When Milo Ventimiglia came to Gilmore Girls, he created a huge impact. His character, Jess, was Luke's bad boy nephew. Almost as soon as he arrived in Stars Hollow, he set his sights on Rory, despite the fact that she was dating Dean. Fans loved the drama Jess created, but hated the threat he posed to an onscreen romance they'd become invested in.
Then a funny thing happened: sore and more fans wanted Jess to win Rory's heart. That's a testament to Ventimiglia's work. He skillfully played the rebel, hinting at a certain inner glee Jess got from breaking rules, as well as the thrill of trying to steal Rory from Dean. That gave way to a performance of sincerity, as viewers realized Jess' feelings were real. Over time, the actor made us understand why she was tempted by him.
7 Hurt: Alex Borstein (Drella and Ms. Celine)
Here's some Gilmore Girls trivia for you. Alex Borstein played Sookie in the pilot episode. At the time, she was also a regular cast member on the sketch comedy series MADtv. When her contract prevented her from keeping the role, it was recast with Melissa McCarthy and the pilot was reshot. Borstein still managed to be part of the show, appearing as two different characters -- Drella the harpist and Emily's stylist Miss Celine.
Aside from the fact that having one actress play two roles was confusing, her cameos were meant to be a subtle in-joke.
Not too many people knew she'd been the original Sookie, though, so general audiences didn't really get it. What good is a joke if almost nobody gets it?
6 Saved: Scott Patterson (Luke)
Luke Danes is, without a doubt, a difficult character to play. He's perpetually grumpy and he doesn't like having his carefully-ordered routine disrupted. He's also a man with a good heart and a commitment to do the right thing. For the show to work, we have to believe that Lorelei can see through the former qualities to get to the latter ones.
Scott Patterson did a phenomenal job of making that happen. Aside from being able to make grumpiness funny, he injected subtle differences into his performance during scenes with Lauren Graham, so that even when Luke was irritated with Lorelei, you could tell that he also harbored serious affection for her. Without Patterson, the show's central romantic relationship wouldn't have worked.
5 Hurt: Scott Cohen (Max Medina)
Scott Cohen appeared semi-regularly over the course of several seasons as Max Medina. Max was both Lorelei's boyfriend -- and, at one point, fiancee -- and Rory's English teacher. His early story arc was mostly about how awkward it was for Rory to have her teacher dating her mom. He became more prominent as a serious love interest to Lorelei, especially once he proposed.
Cohen didn't give a bad performance, but he simply didn't have the same chemistry with Lorelai that Scott Patterson did as Luke.
This made it a forgone conclusion that Max and Lorelei would never end up together.
4 Saved: Sean Gunn (Kirk)
Out of all the eccentric citizens of Stars Hollow, none are wackier than Kirk. Sean Gunn -- brother of Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn -- was not afraid to play up that wackiness. In fact, he embraced it.
A character like Kirk can quickly become obnoxious, especially since every time we saw him, he was engaging in some bizarre new project, like creating his own t-shirt line with random bits of local trivia or making impressionistic movies that no one could understand. To Gunn's endless credit, he found a way to make Kirk lovable in spite of his goofiness. The actor played him as a kind-hearted guy who just enjoyed marching to the beat of his own drummer.
3 Hurt: Marion Ross (Gran and Cousin Marilyn)
Marion Ross is one of several actors who played multiple roles during the original seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. Her case was the most perplexing, though. The former Happy Days co-star initially played "Trix" Gilmore, Richard's mother. She also portrayed another Gilmore family member: Cousin Marilyn.
Having one actress play two Gilmore family members was a very bad idea.
There's an episode where Trix passes away and Cousin Marilyn comes to her funeral. A lot of viewers were confused by this. It took some time to realize that Ross was supposed to be someone different now. Having another performer take on Marilyn would have made it far more clear what was happening.
2 Saved: Alexis Bledel (Rory)
What a discovery Alexis Bledel was. She made her acting debut with Gilmore Girls, blowing away millions of audience members in the process. Despite being an inexperienced actress at the time, she delivered a self-assured performance throughout the show's run and eventual Netflix revival. Bledel and co-star Lauren Graham complemented one another beautifully, which was vital, considering they played a tight-knit mother and daughter.
Beyond that, she embodied the qualities most indicative of Rory -- intelligence, wit, compassion, and ambition. Whether she was trying to get into Yale or work out her various romantic complications, you always rooted for Rory, because Bledel made her feel like a real person, not a fictional character. Even better, the actress credibly showed Rory's growth from a girl to a woman over the course of the series.
1 Saved: Lauren Graham (Lorelei)
Lauren Graham kicked around in movies and other TV shows before landing the role that would truly make her a star. The actress put so much of herself into Lorelei Gilmore that they are virtually one and the same, to the point where it's impossible to imagine the show with anyone else playing that part.
Graham proved quite good at talking rapidly, which was necessary for a program with so much fast-paced dialogue.
She also repeatedly demonstrated a useful quality -- knowing how to make us care about Lorelei even when she wasn't being the nicest person. The importance of that can't be overstated. Whether she's making biting remarks to her mother, breaking the heart of a love interest, or going through a period where she stops speaking to her own daughter, we love Lorelei, thanks to Graham's truthful work.
Which other casting decisions do you think helped or hurt Gilmore Girls? Give us your opinion in the comments.